Performing Arts at Belhaven University

Belhaven University, a charming campus located in a historical neighborhood in the heart of Jackson, Mississippi, has a proud heritage of excellence in many areas of study. Of particular note is that it is 1 of 36 colleges and universities in the country to be nationally accredited in all four fine arts programs (Dance, Theatre, Music, and Visual Arts) and the only Christian school among those.


The Dance Department offers degrees in BA in Dance, BFA in Dance, as well as a Minor in Dance. Also available is a graduate degree of MFA in Dance.

Krista Bower, Associate Professor and Chair of the Dance Department, says of the programs, they “enable students to gain in-depth knowledge and practice in the field of dance with particular attention to the integration of faith and learning.” The Dance Department is housed in the Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center.

There are four spacious dance studios, classrooms for theory courses, a computer lab for dance and technology courses, and a dance clinic which is managed by a full-time athletic trainer who provides injury care and prevention services specifically for their dancers. Bower goes on to say that the Belhaven University Dance Ensemble presents two concerts each year featuring ballet and modern choreography by faculty and internationally recognized guest choreographers. This ensemble functions as a touring company and presents faith-based choreography in churches, nursing homes, and community centers throughout Mississippi.

This spring the Belhaven University Dance Department was selected by the American College Dance Association South Region adjudicators to present faculty member Erin Scheiwe Rockwell’s choreography at the National College Dance Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. from June 6-9, 2018. Bower added, “This is a huge honor as only 30 dance works are chosen for the festival after hundreds are viewed by adjudicators from the 13 regional conferences.”

Grace Ramazzini, 2018 graduate with a BFA in dance, said that her performing experience at Belhaven helped her grow as an artist. She stated, “While at Belhaven, I have been challenged to become a more versatile dancer, both in classical works and contemporary pieces. The dance program has shaped me into a more well-rounded performing artist with a deeper understanding of the art form.”


The Theatre Department offers degrees in Bachelor of Arts (Theatre, Theater Ministry, and Dramatic Writing) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting and Musical Theatre) as well as a Minor in Theatre. The department is very proud of the fact that they are accredited with the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) and therefore holds itself to the highest standards.

Dr. David S. Sollish, Chair of the Department of Theatre, said that they have the only BA in Theatre Ministry in the country. He continued, “Here at Belhaven University, the Christian Worldview is encompassed in everything we do while still providing our students with conservatory-style training for professional careers in the Theatre. I think we do a great job at going against the misconceptions about so-called ‘Christian Theatre.'”

Belhaven’s Department of Theatre is one of the few in the nation to have a resident playwright, and they present a brand new script (a world premiere) every season. The seasons consist of 5-6 MainStage productions every season with two musicals, one original or devised script, and 2-3 other non-musical offerings in two production spaces, a blackbox theatre seating up to 240 and which can be transformed into any configuration imaginable and a smaller 90 seat studio space. Dr. Sollish continued, “In composing our season, we like to see a combination of genres, eras, and a variety of ethnicities and genders represented in the writing and composing.”

Kyra Smiley, a current senior in the Musical Theatre Department, has this to say about her experience. “Belhaven University is a blessing for sure. It is so rare to stumble upon a University full of faculty, staff, and students who genuinely care, not only about sharing their knowledge, expertise, and love but also, they care about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.”


The Department of Music offers degrees in Bachelor of Arts in Music (No Emphasis and Worship Arts), Bachelor of Arts in Music Education (Instrumental Emphasis and Vocal/Choral Emphasis), Bachelor of Music in Composition, and Bachelor of Music in Performance (Organ or Piano, Strings, Voice, and Collaborative Piano Emphasis). Dr. Stephen W. Sachs, Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department at Belhaven, is very proud of a number of current students and recent graduates. He wanted to talk about individual accomplishments because there are so many “stars” in their chosen fields of endeavor in music.

Madeline (Maddi) Jolley, soprano, graduated in May 2018, and is headed to University of Mississippi for her graduate study. She has been awarded an array of assistantships/scholarships for a Master of Music degree. Dr. Sachs thinks she has developed into a superb soprano soloist. Maddi declared, “I love the music department at Belhaven University. Not only have my experiences here brought out the best in me, but I have also gained valuable knowledge and wisdom that enables me to better understand and interpret music.”

Jessica Schmidt, violinist, graduated in May 2018, and is headed for graduate study at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Sachs states that she has excelled in competitions during her time at BU, consistently placing and winning awards. While at Belhaven, she was a contract member of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra performing in the first violin section.

Jessica articulated, “Transferring to Belhaven University to study violin performance with Professor Song Xie was the best decision of my life. God radically changed my heart in more ways than one, which transferred into my playing, and completely transformed my entire experience of music and how to best perform it.”

So many of the students in Belhaven’s arts curriculum are enthusiastic about their studies, but perhaps Kyra says it best when she concludes, “Belhaven has my heart.”

About the Author
Sheila Wagner has spent the last several years working as a professional editor and recently became the staff writer for Private University Products and News. Wagner can be reached at